Why You Should Watch… NASCAR

Why You Should Watch

Daytona, NASCAR, 2013The 2013 NASCAR championship starts this weekend with one of America’s best-known races: the Daytona 500.

The race has already grabbed headlines as Danica Patrick has become the first woman to take pole position for the 500-mile race.

And there are plenty more reasons to turn in for this year’s series as Dominik Wilde explains.

The basics

NASCAR is sometimes derided by fans of European-style motor racing for its frequent crashes and oval-heavy schedule. There’s no denying a lot of the action takes place on ovals – all bar two of the 36 races on this year’s Sprint Cup are.

But the two road course events are always among best races of the year. They take place on two fantastic tracks, Sonoma and former F1 venue Watkins Glen. But with only two tracks with right turns in the whole championship, why should you watch oval racing?

With 43 cars on track, all racing together closely at speeds reaching 200mph, the competition is undoubtedly tough. It demands accurate driving: too high and you go too slow and hit the wall, too low and you again go too slow, and are likely to spin. Oval racing isn?t as simple as it seems.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya: Since deserting F1 for NASCAR in 2006, the seven-time Grand Prix winner is yet to score his first oval victory. Both his Sprint Cup wins came on road courses.

Likewise 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve has also given NASCAR a go, running 19 races in the past five years across all three main series without winning.

If talented F1 racers like Montoya or Villeneuve can’t dominate, surely you don?t need superhuman talent to compete? Not quite. F1 and NASCAR are completely different. Put a top NASCAR driver in an F1 car and it’s likely they’ll be quick, though not the fastest.

Part of that is down to the specific skill required to race ovals, but even IndyCar stars like Dario Franchitti, AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish Jnr failed to convert their success from single-seaters to stock cars. Racing in NASCAR demands a different and very specific kind of talent.

Races tend to last around three hours. That might sound boring, but you?re likely to see more overtaking in one lap than during an entire F1 race. And for some there is the added appeal of fairly frequent crashes which can involve dozens of cars or more.

In F1, drivers rarely win if they don?t start from the top five on the grid. In NASCAR though, due to the competitive nature of the sport and the length of the races, it is possible to win a race after starting 43rd.

The cars

Kyle Busch, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013An F1 car is a 600kg fine-tuned laboratory on wheels. In comparison a NASCAR stock car is incredibly simple. It weighs about 2 tonnes, is made of sheet metal and has a simple small-block V8 up front.

F1 cars cost millions, NASCAR machines cost about ??150,000 with several cars being built throughout the season for different kinds of tracks to suit the different sizes of oval tracks. Engines are 5.9 litre iron block V8s and produce 700 to 900bhp depending on the circuit.

Formula One steering wheels are littered with buttons and teams rely on an array of computers and sensors to monitor the car. All of that is alien to NASCAR.

The cars don?t even have fuel sensors: instead teams must calculate tyre wear and fuel use to make sure they last the race and the driver has to perfectly describe every single sensation they feel so the team can understand what is going on with the car.

There’s no power steering either. And with 42 other cars generating huge turbulence, wrestling a two-tonne beast and keeping it going in a straight line is no mean feat.

In 2007 NASCAR introduced the Car of Tomorrow. It was developed following the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500. Although it proved much safer than previous NASCAR chassisit was introduced to widespread criticism.

Kyle Busch claimed “this car sucks” after winning the first ever CoT and fans disliked how each manufacturer’s car (looked virtually the same.

Just as F1 has tweaked the appearance of its cars this year, the new ‘Gen 6′ NASCAR is aesthetically an improvement over its predecessor. Each car is easily distinguishable from another which is not only good for fans, but also manufacturers who of course want to advertise their product.

Drivers have also praised how the car performs on track. NASCAR strives to make sure all the cars are as equal as possible, without making the series a spec series, to ensure that it stays interesting and competitive.

Boys have at it

There?s no stewards enquiries, no expensive courtroom battles; drivers in NASCAR settle their own differences. In NASCAR, if a driver hits you unnecessarily, you hit them back. So long as things don?t get massively out of hand, drivers get away with retaliation too.

However, things often turn sour. Take Phoenix last year for example ?ǣ an on-track spat between drivers Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer resulted in an ugly brawl in the pits. Gordon was fined, which many considered too light a punishment.

Fights are not uncommon in NASCAR, but drivers tend to receive more severe punishments for their language. Kurt Busch was banned for one weekend in 2013 after using foul language to a reporter having been put on probation for a similar incident at the end of 2011

The chase

In most respects Formula One is more complicated than NASCAR. But NASCAR’s convoluted points system is an exception.

At each race the winner scores 43 points, second place gets 42 and so on down to to last place. On top of that the winner receives an extra three points and a further point is awarded to each driver who leads a lap and whoever leads the most laps, raising the maximum available for a driver at each round to 48.

In an effort to ensure the championship remains alive until late in the season, NASCAR introduced the Chase for the Cup in 2004.

Heading into the final ten races the top ten drivers in the championship standings plus two other drivers who have scored the most wins have their points tallies reset to 2,000. Got all that?

But wait, there’s more: The drivers who were in the top ten receive an additional three points per win, plus one point for leading a lap. The driver in the top ten who has led the most laps also gets another point. From that point on these 12 drivers are the only contenders for the championship.

While this has drawn criticism for being complicated, arbitrary and not necessarily rewarding the best driver, it has placed more emphasis on winning and contributed to the championship being decided at the final race of the season for the last three years.

Should you watch it then?

Danica Partrick, Daytona, NASCAR, 2013Yes! OK, the points system is a mess, the cars are as technologically advanced as an IKEA bookcase but the racing is fantastic. I?m a fan of both F1 and NASCAR: I started off an F1 fan and grew to love NASCAR.

Despite its simple-looking tracks, every lap keeps you on the edge of your seat. And the drivers are a world away from F1’s PR-trained corporate clones.

Over to you

Do you watch NASCAR? What do you like or dislike about it?

Have your say in the comments.

What motorsport would you recommend other F1 fans to follow? If you want to put the case for your favourite non-F1 category write a guest article and send it in. More information here: Write a guest article for F1 Fanatic

For more from Dominik see his website Dominik Wilde Motorsport

Why you should watch…

Images ?? NASCAR/Getty

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185 comments on Why You Should Watch… NASCAR

  1. xabregas (@xabregas) said on 24th February 2013, 12:43

    Really really good article Keith.
    Started to watch F1 races back in 1979 ( what a year ), rapidly became my favorite sport ( Gilles Villeneuve´s fault ) and since then may have missed 5 races at most. Started to watch nascar in 2007 and since then i haven´t missed one race. Today i watch all 3 divisons of Nascar ( trucks, nationwide and sprint cup ).
    In a Nascar race you can watch about everything, racing, strategy with tires and fuel, the set up of the cars ( very quick in few laps or quicker in longer runs ), then you have the cautions and the crew chiefs have to set up new strategies, the atmosfere envolving the races and finnally nascar races are for the fans .
    F1 and Nascar are so much different ( the cars, racing, the tracks ) but i can´t live with out them.

  2. Michael Brown (@) said on 24th February 2013, 13:55

    Sounds like the series for the F1 fans of the eras decades ago, who complain about the F1 of today with all its computers, politics, etc.

    • Not really as Nascar also features a lot of what the older F1 fans complain about with modern F1.
      That been the fact that Nascar puts entertainment over racing just as F1 does with things like DRS & high-wear tyres.

      The stupid pack racing is done not because its better racing but just because its entertainment, none of the drivers like doing it & races tend to become a lottery in terms of avoiding the ‘big one’ & finding the right drafting partner.

      You also have cautions thrown just to bunch the field up, the boys have at it attitude from officials who let drivers get away with intentionally wrecking other drivers just because the ensuing crash & occasional fight makes the headline news.

      The whole chase concept also irks me, Basically only the final 10 races count to the championship & the guy who wins the championship ends up been the one who had the best ‘chase’ rather than the best season. Its just done to ensure the title fight goes to the final race every year, Its totally artificial & makes a mockery of the championship title.

      I used to watch nascar, Used to quite like it as well. However they started to kaing it in the direction of using artificial means & put entertainment & show above the actual on-track racing so I stopped watching.

      Im not the only one who stopped either as TV audience & track attendance has been in decline over the past decade or so as more & more artificial stuff has made its way in.

  3. Just watched my first flag-flag NASCAR race and I have to say it was not really interesting at all. Ended up sitting on my couch for hours without much happening :( also was interrupted by a million ‘side-to-side’ ad breaks. Yuk, what a waste of time!

  4. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 24th February 2013, 22:16

    I always loved the sound!

  5. Kimi4WDC said on 24th February 2013, 22:37

    Watched CART, every race – I think it was at it’s peak during Zanardi and Mantoya days. Right now I find IndyCar in a same position as NASCAR back then, no matter how much I try to follow it, the cars, the drivers, whole series feels fake and boring.

  6. JMLabareda (@jmlabareda) said on 25th February 2013, 0:07

    Great discussion. NASCAR is obviously a very polarising sport, especially within a F1 audience, and I suspect the overlap of the fan base is small. I happen to be a huge F1 fan and happen to like NASCAR as well. I like the fact that the cars are powerful beasts, I like the closeness of the racing, and don’t mind that the cars are as technologically advanced as an IKEA bookcase. I think we should treat the sport with respect and appreciate that there is a lot of skill in driving these cars in all sorts of oval tracks – reputable open wheel drivers such as Montoya, Villeneuve, Franchitti, Allmendinger and Hornish have found it challenging.

    I don’t like the excessive cautions and some of the retaliation stuff, but again there are a few things in F1 that i find extremely irritating.

    The Americanness of it is amusing and a USP of the product – I love the pre race rituals, Larry McReynolds accent, the fact that Kyle Busch’s team is sponsored by gunbroker.com, or that some race restarts are sponsored by KFC.

    The business / commercial side of NASCAR is impressive and there are many things other series could learn from.

    • Fisha695 (@fisha695) said on 25th February 2013, 1:17

      I suspect the overlap of the fan base is small

      I think the fanbase on the NASCAR side that also follows F1 is pretty large (I’m basing that off of a few NASCAR video game forums I’m on so not exactly a scientific study l0l), though I feel it’s more the younger (as in my & I’m 25) generation of fans & I would say that’s largely based on video games. I grew up around oval tracks but I was exposed to the massiveness of road racing via the Gran Turismo series when I was very young & that really helped me grow to love what came along with road racing be it open-wheel or full-bodied cars and I can honestly say I know a lot of people that have that same experience & they all follow F1/Sportscars (some more then others of-course).

      While on the other hand oval racing/stockcar racing didn’t really exist outside of dedicated NASCAR games (or the legendary Dirt Track Racing series on PC in the early 2000s), so while the circle track fans were getting exposed to the twisty stuff via GT, NFS, Test Drive, etc there really was no similar product to get that younger generation of twisty fans over to the circles outside of dedicated NASCAR games.

      IDK atleast that’s my theory, it may not be 100% correct but I know atleast in my case it is.

  7. AlonsoWDC (@alonsowdc) said on 25th February 2013, 1:14

    Every series of NASCAR has mandated (or at least allowed – and universally adopted) power steering for upwards of twenty years now.

  8. Jared H (@thejaredhuang) said on 25th February 2013, 7:30

    I don’t know if anyone has said this yet but media available for NASCAR is leaps and bounds ahead of F1.

    Let’s start with the webpage. NASCAR’s site is easier to navigate, has more content, and has a database of video that F1 could only dream of. The video that is available is also usually on Youtube and in HD without a pointless and lengthy scan of your computer settings. Futhermore race highlights are easily more than 5 minutes long and aren’t covered up by a song so you can hear the cars, the tires, the crashes, etc. Finally these vidoes are up within hours of the event. F1.com takes weeks and sometimes months to post videos.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 25th February 2013, 11:15

      In general that is pretty much true @thejaredhuang, but it seems they suffer the same kind of issues about fan videos posted by race attendants as FOM has.

      In the video the fan actually puts away the camera after realizing how serious it might be. I guess it would have been right if NASCAR had asked the fan to take down the footage for now because of the feelings of those injured. Instead they misused the “copyright infringement” one.

    • Fisha695 (@fisha695) said on 25th February 2013, 13:10

      Kind of funny you say that about the NASCAR website because ever since the redesign for this year most every NASCAR fan has hated it & even for the past few years it seems like most of us have wanted it to look more like the F1 website. haha

      The one thing online wise that F1 (well I guess it’s the FIA in this case) does right IMHO is put the rules online for everybody to download & see. And I’m not just talking about the race rules, but the actual technical rules too while NASCAR doesn’t do that (for it’s top series) at all.

  9. bruteMax (@brutemax) said on 25th February 2013, 17:27

    The reason why F1 drivers haven’t done so well in NASCAR is because first, there aren’t many that have made the transition and secondly, the skill ceiling is too low for driver skill to matter as much.

    Ovals are simpler. Banked ovals are simpler still (less braking). The cars are simpler (4 gears, much slower).

    There’s virtually no shifting other than when you pit, the flat ovals and road courses being the only exceptions.

    The drafting tracks of Daytona and Talladega are deathly boring and require the least amount of skill (the fact that these tracks spawned the most first-time and one-time winners is a testament to that). We only wait for that huge pileup near the end.

    Having a “guest” driver drive your car at road courses is just flat-out embarrassing and something NASCAR should prevent.

    The “playoff” points system is an artifice to diminish the importance of the first 25+ races so people will continue to watch the last 10.

    NASCAR is a branding exercise. Nothing much more than that. I do enjoy watching the road courses though, as well as Martinsville.

  10. kgriff said on 25th February 2013, 18:37

    Hell no.

    And I’m an American.

    Agree that the couple of non-oval tracks are kind of an interesting watch. For me, the interest ends there. I know that F1 is marvelously, excessively expensive. But the technical and sporting sophistication is tops. I love it for that – $$ notwithstanding.

    NASCAR, seems to me, to be more about the culture of red-state racing (I might get in trouble for that I realize…); crashes – they seem to market those more than the racing; and the absolute futility of trying not to wreck a slippery car (traction-wise) at outlandish pace and with compromised aero (since you’re all in the slipstream 100% of the time).

    I’m not saying it’s easy. I don’t think it is. But I don’t think it’s sophisticated either. And just because something’s treacherous and difficult doesn’t mean you should do it…

  11. I love NASCAR. I totally agree with Keith’s points. It is a different ball game and a different fun thing. I watch it every weekend. I follow Nascar as much as F1. In fact I have taken a drive around in an NASCAR in one of the speedways. It is a beast by itself. My favorite tracks are Talladega, Indianapolis, HOmestead Miami and Daytona. in that order. THe Bump Drafting and the sling shots are really a wonderful thing. I mean. Then there are the small tracks. That is another story all together.

  12. Tomas Andersson said on 18th March 2013, 6:34

    I have now started to watch NASCAR from start to flag and I am persistent and trying not to be judgmental since I know that knowledge is key to enjoying any sport.

    That said, there are some elements of highly irritating things that makes it really hard for me to enjoy NASCAR.

    The commentators: What kind of damage has a commentator suffered when he feels it necessary to start every race with some Fred Flintstone/Rabid Monkey screech? “Boogidibogeiboo” or is it “Uggabuggaboo”?
    I am now wise to the man and promptly turns off the sound at the start of the race.

    The commercials: All the time and in every way possible they try to plug things. The constant breaks. After the commercials the commentators do some more plugging. Even the cameras on the cars are sponsored by …

    The yellows: I really do feel that sometimes they call out a yellow for the only reason to gather the cars up.
    And why does it have to be a safety car for every yellow. Often the situation would have sorted itself out, the car with the puncture will remove itself so turn off that yellow and start the racing again.
    The second race this year they had a safety car for a car that ran out of fuel! A safety car!

    That aside I do have some good times in the sofa, running a projector on a 110 inch screen with full surround it gives a real nice experience.
    For a newcomer to the sport it also is a daunting project with 43 cars to learn the drivers names and colours of their livery.

    I do like to mock Red Bull for not having any real motoring connections but the second race this season in NASCAR was won by a sandwich vendor.

    My two cents from Sweden

  13. shariff (@sharifffudin) said on 24th March 2013, 10:35

    I have tried playing Nascar PS3 games on Full Race settings. I lasted 4 hours on the controller. When I woke up, I crashed. It is a great sports, nonetheless.

  14. Kyle Land (@kylel515) said on 31st March 2014, 3:42

    There are a few reasons that, even though I’m American, I don’t like watching NASCAR. First of all I don’t like how they have a pre-race prayer; in my opinion it has no place in sports. Also, it is said that the crashes are the best part. They’re exciting for like five minutes. All the caution flags become really boring. The ovals don’t help it become more interesting. Honestly, F1 is more simple than NASCAR

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